International UU Youth Exchange 2009

By Eric Cherry

The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Briarcliff, Croton & Ossining (UUBCO), in Croton on Hudson, New York and the First Unitarian Society of Westchester in Hastings on Hudson, New York are connecting their youth and families with Unitarian and Freireligioese (free religion group) youth and families in France, Germany and Holland this summer through an international exchange program. The program, now in its second year, began with the help, cooperation and guidance of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), the Unitarian Universalist Partner Church Council (UUPCC), the Deutsche Unitarier (DU - German Unitarians) group, the International Council of Unitarian and Universalists (ICUU) and the European Unitarian Universalists (EUU). The UUA, UUPCC, ICUU, EUU and the DU are committed to connecting Unitarians worldwide, recognizing that exchange programs offer youth an opportunity, not only to connect with others in their faith but also to learn about cultures, languages, and life in other countries. Indeed, it is well-known that such programs play a VERY significant, positive role in a participant’s life.
In Summer of 2008, the first year of the program, five youth from Westchester and five from Germany made the trek across the ocean and into each other’s country and region to learn about their life, language, culture, faith, and history and participated in everyday activities with their respective host families. The families took the youth, when possible, to a Unitarian service and to meet other Unitarians. The Westchester youth also committed themselves to a number of hours of the foreign language study prior to departing on their trip.
This summer, the program has expanded beyond USA and Germany as Westchester Unitarian youth are also going to France and Holland. The six youth who are traveling to Europe this summer are:
  • Aster Gross (front left): Aster is 16 and has completed her sophomore year at New Rochelle High School. Aster is witty and outgoing and enjoys hanging out with family and friends. She is also an exceptional student, gifted dancer and is enrolled in her high school’s special dance program and plays the drums, guitar and piano very well. Her other interests include photography and art. Aster also enjoys travel and has studied Italian for several years. She will be staying this summer in Mannheim Germany.
  • Ariel Islam (front center): Ariel, 16, has completed the eleventh grade at the Camp Hill High School in Camp Hill, PA and splits her time between her mother there and her father in Croton. Ariel is easygoing, performs very well in school and has been inducted into the National Honor Society for academics, Spanish and Latin. Ariel is involved in many youth group activities, wants to go into law or politics; loves swimming, singing, skiing, movies, studying. She is talkative and curious, likes classical and rock music, loves travel, art, literature, history, and would like to learn about French political parties/elections, etc. during her stay in Palau del Vidre, France this summer. Ariel participated in the Exchange last summer and stayed in Friedrichshof, Germany.
  • Emma Kates-Shaw (front right): Emma 15, splits her time between her father in Tuckahoe, New York and her mother in Ossining, where she has completed the ninth grade at Ossining High School. Emma is very creative and loves painting, drawing and creating many things. She also loves to read and to write and has varied musical tastes. At her church in Hastings, Emm participates in many youth group and other activities. While she would like to pursue a career in art or education, Emma is interested in politics and world affairs, French art, history and culture which should be quenched during her stay this summer in Palau del Vidre, France.
  • Jonathan (“JJ”) Kullberg (back right) : JJ is 15 and speaks a little bit of French. JJ has been to Canada and Puerto Rico and will travel to Kiel, Germany and Amsterdam, Holland this summer and participated in the Exchange last summer in Mannheim, Germany. . JJ is thoughtful, a bit quiet, loves film, plays exceptionally the guitar and enjoys skiing, is skilled in skateboarding and rollerblading and has organized the Frisbee club at school. JJ has completed his Sophomore year at Croton Harmon High School.
  • Jake Newman (back left): Jake is 16 years old, has completed his sophomore year at Croton Harmon High School, has traveled to a number of countries, and speaks some Spanish. Jake plays soccer and is a vegetarian. He likes hiking, swimming, camping, reading and writing, and plays bass guitar. He describes himself as talkative and sociable and enjoys video games, being with friends, listening to music. Jake participated in the Exchange last summer in Mannheim, Germany and will return this summer to be with the same family.
  • Michael Kullberg (not shown): Michael is 20 and in his second year at the Westchester County Community College. Mike speaks some Spanish and he, along with brother JJ, will be traveling to Kiel, Germany and Amsterdam, Holland this summer. Mike has a love for cooking and is also interested in cycling, frisbee, sailing, German cooking and history.
  • Elijah Lewis (back center): Elijah, 16, has completed the 10th grade at Mohopac High School, Mahopac, New York. He enjoys the big three American sports – baseball, basketball (his favorite) and football, as well as lacrosse. He likes pop and classical music, playing video games, and playing the trumpet. His favorite school subjects are math, biology, history, and band. Elijah also speaks Spanish. His hobbies are drawing, bicycle riding, hiking, and camping. Elijah participated in the Exchange in the Summer of 2008 and has been a very helpful resource to the newly participating youth.

About the Author

Eric Cherry

Eric was the Director of the UUA’s International Office since August 2007. Prior to this Eric served for 12 years as a parish minister with UU congregations in Burlington, Iowa and N. Easton, Massachusetts. Eric has long been involved in the UU Partner Church movement, serving as the English...


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